50 things every biologist should know

Jeff Houlahan jeffhoul at unbsj.ca
Thu Apr 7 06:58:37 EST 2005

Hi, Microbio members.  Like many Biology departments in universities across Canada, our university, the University of New Brunswick at Saint John, has decided to phase out the comprehensive exam in favour of a proposal defense/qualifying exam as part of the requirements for completion of a Ph. D.  The rationale for this, as we understand it, is that students should not be expected to have a detailed understanding of the entire discipline of biology.  A proposal defense/qualifying exam is only expected to test a student on areas relevant to their Ph. D. research.  This is a concept we support, but it does raise the concern that students could graduate with a Ph. D. in Biology without understanding some very basic biological concepts if those concepts are not relevant to their project.  For example, students doing research that has no explicit evolutionary context could graduate without knowing the difference between evolution and natural selection.  Our discussion group has suggested that one way to deal with this is to develop a list of ‘The 50 things every biologist should know’ and make those 50 topics fair game in a qualifying exam/proposal defence.  Thus, our goal is to put together such a list.  We have put together a preliminary list of 60 different questions (maybe) every biologist should be able to answer (see that list below), but we are looking for broader input.  We would love to hear from anybody who would like to add a question or questions to the list, or make some comment about the questions that are already on the list.  Ultimately, we will be putting together a survey to rank the suggestions we get and identify the ’50 things every biologist should know’ as ranked by survey responses.  We will distribute that list to this group when the survey is complete.  Thanks for any comments you can provide on this.

The UNBSJ Ecology discussion group


1.	What is an atom?
2.	What is a molecule?
3.	What causes water to be green?
4.	What are the two laws of thermodynamics?
5.	What are the four unique properties of water?
6.	What three elements define organic compounds?
7.	What is an element?
8.	What is a protein
9.	What is a carbohydrate?
10.	What is a lipid?


11.	What is DNA?
12.	What is a gene?
13.	What is natural selection?
        13b. Are evolution and natural selection synonymous terms?
14.	What is a chromosome?
15.	What are the four principles of Mendelian genetics
16.	What is a genome?
17.	How is DNA replicated?
18.	What is epistasis?
19.	What are the sources of genetic variation?
20.	What is epigenesis?


21.	What does the Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium predict, and what is the importance of the model assumptions?
22.	How have continents moved and how has that affected the formation and distribution 
of species?
23.	What is evolution?
24.	What is the difference between micro and macro-evolution?
25.	Can you read a phylogenetic tree?
26.	What are the kingdoms of living organisms?
27.	Finish the following Kingdom, Phylum…
28.	What is the “Evolutionary Synthesis”?
29.	Is evolution progressive?
30.	What comes first: the adaptation or the selective pressure?
31.	What is meant by the “inheritance of acquired traits”, who made this claim, and why was he wrong?
32.	What is the object of natural selection?
33.	Are cladogenesis and anagenesis synonymous terms?
34.	What is a phenotype?


35.	What is osmosis?
36.	What are the key differences between prokaryotes and eukaryotes
37.	What is mitosis and what happens during mitosis?
38.	What is meiosis and what happens during meiosis?
39.	What are the ? cell organelles and what are their functions?
40.	What are the key differences between plant and animal cells?
41.	What is a cell?


42.	What is photosynthesis?
43.	What is glycolysis?
44.	What is the Kreb’s cycle?
45.	How does energy flow and matter cycle?
46.	What is a trophic level?
47.	How does water cycle?
48.	Can you describe the cycles for key nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, carbon)
49.	What is biomagnification?


50.	What is the Theory of Island Biogeography?
51.	What are r and K selected life histories?
52.	What is an ecosystem?


53.	What are Newton’s Laws?
54.	What are the key organs in the human body and what are their functions?
55.	What are Theories, hypotheses and predictions and how do they differ?
56.	What are the important plant structures and their functions?
57.	What is homeostasis and why is it important?
58.	What is the scientific method?
59.	What is a confidence interval?
60.	What is an ANOVA?

Excuse the cross posting – we are trying to get a diverse group of opinions.


More information about the Microbio mailing list

Send comments to us at biosci-help [At] net.bio.net